Ensuring safety, one inspection at a time

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Sondra Escutia
  • 49th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
Nestled out of site in what some consider a "back shop," Airmen from the 49th Maintenance Squadron are saving the Air Force money with every find, and potentially saving lives.

Non-destructive inspection specialists are doing exactly as their job title implies -- inspecting -- and making sure Holloman's air and ground equipment are safe, serviceable and in ready condition. It is a task that this shop does not take lightly.

"We are like a quality assurance. We are assuring that this structure, the aircraft, is good to go," said Staff Sgt. Patricia Quintanilla, 49th MXS NDI specialist and former technical school instructor.

By using liquid penetrant, magnetic particles, X-rays, ultrasound or electromagnetic current, the small shop can inspect equipment, aircraft parts and engines from around the base without causing any damage in the process.

"We don't have to destroy the part or do anything to manipulate the part to find our crack," said Sergeant Quintanilla. "We utilize one of our NDI methods," which are taught at the specialists' nine week technical school and mastered during 15 months of on-the-job training.

They also analyze engine oils to determine which wear metal contents it contains, allowing them to find any potential problems in the aircraft or vehicle. This is the primary inspection currently used on Holloman's key airframe, the F-22 Raptor.

Although the shop's main job right now lies in the T-38 Talon aircraft, the shop has experienced an influx of people to accommodate the growing number of Raptors. NDI Airmen will also begin to inspect the Remotely Piloted Aircraft as they continue to be flown in training missions.

"There are a lot of Airmen in the shop right now and the reason is to support the F-22 and T-38," Sergeant Quintanilla said. "Once the phase inspections get going, we will do a lot to support the F-22."

Phase inspections are conducted periodically after an aircraft hits a specified number of flying hours. During the inspection, maintenance Airmen thoroughly examine the airframe and aircraft systems, and NDI plays a big part in finding discrepancies.

"Whenever there is a phase inspection ... we have a pre-doc meeting and we'll have a list of things that need to be done," Sergeant Quintanilla said. "And not just NDI, but all the different shops -- hydraulics, engines, fabrications and the sheet metal guys to name a few."

Even with the meticulous F-22 inspections approaching, Airman 1st Class Marcel Wiltz, an NDI specialist, believes he has one of the best careers in the Air Force, and trusts in his innate ability to find any defect. His keen eye, among other things, has earned him Airmen of the Year for the 49th MXS.

"Although we are a back shop -- we're that screw that holds it together," said Airman Wiltz. "You're not thinking about it until you lose it and then things happen. You have to go over, above and beyond."

Like the rest of the NDI Airmen, it is Airman Wiltz's mission to make sure no defective equipment passes an inspection, no damaged part gets put back into the aircraft and no preventable accidents occur because of a crack, as miniscule as it may be.

"I take it personally when inspecting F-22s, T-38 and other equipment for cracks because somebody's life could be affected by that," said Airman Wiltz. "It is my responsibility."